Chapter 3-2

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Chapter 3, Part 2

Inside their April-model vehicle, the six members of Gillette Corps were all gathered. They were bound for Ratison.

Officially, the corps moved with Alberic Gillette at the helm, and the Kleeman organization had given Alberic full rein to decide its where and how it operated. That was to say, Alberic was at liberty to decide how to handle the majority of the directives issued to him by headquarters. It was set up so that his fellow corps members were his subordinates, serving only as extra limbs where his own could not reach.

But when it came to his unit, Alberic detested playing the dictator.

Of course, if it came down to it he wouldn’t hesitate to order his unit around, however, when new development surrounding or pertaining to the objective arose, he preferred to call meetings and let everyone have their say. From a societal perspective he still considered himself green and lacking in experience, so he valued the varied opinions his team, a unit full of people from all different walks of life, brought to the table.

At first, there actually were a few members of his team that denounced this method, calling it “very un-leader-like” (like Vivi, for instance), but now the entire corps accepted his method of leadership.

“…So…” Alberic’s second-in-command Nikolay began, his gaze falling on the documents lying atop their roundtable. By the way, the wounds he had received in his battle with the young saboteur the other day were still healing, so his already massive arm was still wrapped in thick, white bandages. It now resembled a tree trunk even more than before. “What’s bothering you?”

Sitting around the table clockwise, starting from Alberic, were Vivi, Zita, Nikolay, and then Leonardo. Mattheus was in the driver’s seat, in charge of operating the April vehicle, yet he was close enough that he could still participate in the conversation.

“I just feel like there are too many unknowns,” Alberic said. “Our objective is to capture the Taboo Emperor Arthur Gaz’s offspring Chaika Gaz, and in the process secure the remains that she’s trying to collect. However,” he pointed to the documents from headquarters on the table, “there’s almost no information pertaining to the girl.”

This sheaf of documents was a bit thicker than the ones he had been given just before he had accepted the mission, though that added thickness could be attributed mostly to the lengthy arrest records of all the fakes calling themselves “Chaika Gaz.” Information on Chaika Gaz herself was just about as scant as before.

“Why have so many fakes come out of the woodwork to impersonate her anyway?”

“Well, that’s…” he trailed off.

“Yes, what of that?” Nikolay agreed with a nod.

Calling yourself Chaika Gaz and preaching about the second coming of the empire was indeed one way to carry out a moneymaking scheme. That in itself was not unusual. But there had been way too many impostors. To be honest, even before they started hunting down this particular Chaika Gaz, Gillette Corps had already taken two goons claiming they were “the Taboo Emperor’s daughter” into custody.

If extorting money was their only goal, there were a number of others they could impersonate instead. As a matter of fact, having the name “Chaika Gaz” would actually be quite risky for business.

“Well, not having enough information is only one of our main problems,” said the girl with magnificently wavy hair, Vivi.

Despite the refined, noble impression her outward appearance gave, she was as assassin. She was unwilling to disclose what kind of life she led before joining the corps, and yet…

“I’m Chaika Gaz.”

She said, producing a silver wig from somewhere and plopping it on her head. Then, she clasped both hands together as if in prayer.

“In accordance with Father’s dying wish, I will strive my hardest to resurrect the Gaz Empire.  Please lend me money, mister.”

“Wahahaha!”

“Ahahaha!”

Nikolay and Zita both broke into explosive laughter, pointing at her. Alberic and Leonardo cracked small, strained smiles.

“Just kidding~”

Removing the silver wig, Vivi stuck out her tongue impishly and continued speaking.

“Since no one knows if she really exists or not, that makes it all the more easy to falsify her appearance. Deceiving and scamming people would a snap…all you need are the traits ‘girl’ and ‘silver hair.'”

For an assassin, proficiency in theater and disguise were indispensable. If Vivi was so inclined, she probably really could fool anyone with her “Chaika Gaz” act.

 “That’s true…” said Alberic. “But on the other hand, it’s also true that out of the ones we’ve been after, there were also those that didn’t seem to be pulling any kind of scam at all…this current Chaika Gaz included.”

“You’re talking about the refugees of the Empire trying to make a new ‘leader,’ right?” Nikolay said, wiping away the tears that had formed in his eyes as a result of his boisterous laugh.

“Yes, there were indeed some Chaika Gaz impostors with that in mind, however…”

Alberic reached out for the documents. On the topmost page was a list of all the confirmed Chaika Gaz sightings up until now.

The number totaled over thirty., and seventy percent of those had already been arrested. As previously mentioned, the girls had mostly been selfish individuals trying to make a quick buck…but the problem was that there were three “Chaika Gaz”s that were not.

Those three girls…had all committed suicide after their capture.

From the existence of wizards like Mattheus who specialized in controlling the will of Feyra, Alberic knew that it was possible to forcibly extract information out of a human left alive. Those three girls had most likely taken their own lives because they were afraid of that very fact.

In other words, they had a secret that they were willing to take to the grave.

Alberic and the others suspected that it was information pertaining to the refugee army.

And so, the reason why Gillette Corps were going to such lengths to chase after “Chaika Gaz” was to nip in the bud any societal unrest, indiscriminate slaughter or rebellious insurrections that the Empire refugees might bring forth. Though they were refugees now, they had once been a part of a gigantic major power. If they were to all mobilize, they had more than enough personnel to overtake a small country.

Therefore, Alberic and the others had also surmised that for the realization of that express purpose, hoisting up a new leader and gaining power through the acquisition of Gaz’s remains were perfectly natural courses of action.

But…

“Mattheus.”

“Yes?”

Seemingly surprised at being suddenly called upon, Mattheus twisted his head back to look at them from the driver’s seat.

“You were on their tail for a while. During that time, was there any indication that our current Chaika Gaz was engaging in contact with any refugees or allies of the Empire?”

“No, there were none,” said Mattheus as he rubbed his bald head with his palm. He had been on reconnaissance, previously tailing the Chaika Gaz that Gillette Corps had met in Del Solant. In actuality it had lasted just a bit over three days, but regardless he was the one in the group that had observed the girl’s actions the most. “As far as I could tell, she acted alone the whole time.”

“And then she went and recruited that saboteur,” said Nikolai, nodding.

After investigating, they found out that this Chaika Gaz had put in a request to the Del Solant guild, recruited siblings named Tohru and Akari, and had raided Count Abarth’s mansion. The young man who Nikolay had fought with was probably Tohru.

But…if that girl really was being put up by the refugee army as their new leader, they really didn’t have a good handle on her, or rather, being left to her own devices to loiter around the continent as she liked didn’t really fit the definition of “leader.” There should have been someone watching her, or guarding her, or even someone by her side.

“Which means that she really didn’t have anyone supporting her? No one at all?”

“If that’s so…” Alberic flicked the documents with his index finger, “then who in the world is this girl? Could she be the real thing? Or maybe…”

“Not a swindler, nor a refugee of the Empire…a third type of Chaika Gaz, then?” muttered Zita, tilting her head.

“Her being the genuine article or not, the real problem is what her goal is,” Leonardo spoke up. “Well, if she is the real deal, though, she may actually just be trying to give her father a proper burial.”

“We certainly can’t discount that possibility, either.”

The figure of the girl he had seen at Del Solant flashed through his mind.

In some respects, she had had this ephemeral air about her. Nor did she seem like the scheming type in any way. Of course, that all could also be part of her act, though—

“We can’t lose sight of the fact that there could be some other motive, as well. Like someone could be using her, and she simply hasn’t realized it—something like that. If that’s true, we can’t let her users do as they please. Like for instance, that poor cute girl’s own servants.”

“…”

“They’ll use whatever they can to achieve their goal, so…huh? What’s the matter, everyone?”

Alberic noticed that everyone’s gazes from all around the table, save for Mattheus who was preoccupied with driving, had all fixed on a singular point: him. No, he was the one talking, and of course he was their leader, so naturally they would be focused on him. But…how to phrase it…he felt like the intensity of their gazes was a bit different than usual.

“Uh…what did I say?”

Nikolay spoke up first, scratching his cheek.

“Out of all the “Chaika Gaz”s thus far, you seem a bit…attached to this one.”

“‘Attached?’ R-really now?” Alberic tilted his head.

It was true that he felt something different about this Chaika versus all the previous ones.

But…then.

“Vivi?”

For some reason, Vivi had taken out the silver wig again, and was now stabbing it hatefully with a needle she had taken out with her bag. Witnessing his subordinate do something so odd, Alberic was perplexed.

“What’s wrong?”

“Oh, nothing in particular.”

With a sulky look, Vivi tossed the wig in the air. She probably wasn’t aiming for him, but the wig landed on Mattheus’s bald head, and since the needle was still lodged in there, Mattheus let out a sharp cry.

“Ouch!?”

“Well, I mean, you are her Gillette-sama—”

“Towards you, Vivi feels pure—”
Nikolay and Zita both opened their mouths to speak, and in the next instant…

“Silence,” the assassin girl ordered.

At some point, though he didn’t know when, she had gotten up and was now brandishing two needles from behind them, right at the backs of their heads.

“Understood. I’ll shut up.”

“Absolutely. No more from me.”

Zita and Mattheus both held up one hand, as if swearing an oath.

“…I just don’t get it, though…”

“That’s just as well. It’s so like you, after all,” Leonardo laughed, leaving a stymied Alberic in the lurch.

***

Locational advantage was the main idea behind the art of war—that was what he had learned back in the Acura village.

He had also been taught that when faced with a difficult situation, a person would tend to forget their original objective. However, this could be countered by taking a step back and assessing the entire situation. Doing so often opened up useful paths to victory in unexpected places.

Adhering to this line of thinking, Tohru decided to first take a walk around the mansion, examining its interior.

He found that structurally, there wasn’t anything too unusual.

The majority of noble’s mansions had a specific architecture to them—four walls around the outside, and an open area on the inside. Dominica Scoda’s mansion was much the same—a square building walled in on all sides, and a courtyard in the middle.

“What a simple mansion,” Tohru muttered his thoughts out loud.

She was a military woman before she was a countess, so in that respect the idea that she would want to live in such simple quarters wasn’t particularly surprising…but she didn’t even have any decorations or anything. She was a military woman, so Tohru figured she’d at least have some weapons or suits of armor on display, but there was nothing of the sort.

Furthermore, it looked like she rarely cleaned house.

Dust had accumulated everywhere, to the point that wherever Tohru walked he left footprints. The atmosphere really was that of an abandoned house; that was to say, there were no other signs of life anywhere.

“Still…a pretty unusual situation.”

As Tohru walked the hallways, he muttered to himself, mixing a sigh in.

As he had mentioned to Chaika, if it came down to taking the remains by force, then they had no choice but to confront the dragoon cavalier Dominica Scoda. Still, it was a dragoon cavalier versus two saboteurs and a wizard. If he had to put into words, the idea of going up against her made him incredibly uneasy.

“To think we’d end up going against a dragoon cavalier…”

Dragoon cavaliers were in a whole different class from a normal cavalier or soldier.

You might as well think of them as a demi-human cavalier.

Put crudely, they were “part-monster”, or “beings who had sold their soul and dignity to the Feyra.” Many saw them as existences that had already forfeited their humanity.

They had exchanged part of their body for that of a dragoon, implanted it, and become “part-dragon.”

Basically, the dragoon Feyra would give over a part of its body to the cavalier, and the cavalier’s magic would effectively be raised to that of a dragoon.

“A dragoon…huh.”

Several varieties of beings called “dragons” had been identified here on Verbist, like wyverns and wyrms, but none of them could be called Feyra. They couldn’t use magic, and their intelligence wasn’t very high—mere “large lizards”, some would say. There had been a wyrm nest close to the Acura village, so Tohru was relatively familiar with them.

Dragoons, on the other hand, were Feyra.

They could use magic, they were smart, and it was even in the name—they were armor-wearing dragons.

Or to be more precise, they were able to harden and transform parts of their bodies, raising their defenses to astronomical levels. Basically a dragon’s magic was “the ability to alter their own body.”

But it wasn’t as simple as that they were near-invincible.

By using their body-altering magic, on the off-chance they did receive a serious wound they were able to heal it immediately.

And it was the same for the dragoon cavalier, who was effectively one with the dragoon.

Through the use of a “pact,” even if they were a short distance away from each other, a dragoon’s magic would reach the dragoon cavalier.

Therefore, it was impossible to even nearly kill them when they were armed. If they so desired, they could use the dragoon’s magic to equip themselves with armor in a split second, or they could even fabricate a sword or spear by lengthening their skin. What’s more, as long as they didn’t get any of their vital areas like their head or heart destroyed, they could heal their body any time they needed to.

All this made dragoon cavaliers enough of a threat already.

But that was without factoring in the attack power of the dragon itself.

They had massive builds that easily dwarfed that of horses and cows, and were equipped with muscles that, naturally, were not even in the same league as a human’s. They could punch, kick, swing its tail, or flap their wings. With simple attacks like that, dragons could level houses with one attack or smash holes into castle walls.

In other words, just because regular dragons couldn’t attack with magic didn’t mean they weren’t strong.

“If only there was some sort of weak point…”

To be honest, he knew next to nothing about the ecology of dragoon cavaliers.

There weren’t that many of them to begin with. The countries had started treating them like some big military secret, and so information about them no longer circulated. Tohru only knew this information based on what his war-veteran senior saboteurs had told him—he had never seen one in person.

Dragons on their own were said to show up in the most surprising places …even soldiers in the same encampment as dragoon cavaliers said that they showed up before you knew it, and you couldn’t even tell whether or not you were approaching one—that sort of stealthy manner of movement despite their massive size apparently made them all the more unsettling.

“If it’s that big, perhaps we should stage our attack in the mansion—but then if the mansion gets destroyed in the process and we get crushed under the rubble, that’d be pointless.”

If it came down to a fight, and they lured Dominica into the mansion, perhaps that would at least keep the dragon from interfering.

Mulling over all this in his head, Tohru opened the door to the courtyard and went in—

“…!?”

A single girl was standing there.

It was as unexpected as a solitary flower blooming in the desert.

A small, modest flower bed had been set in the courtyard, but instead of flowers, there were only weeds. Almost as if to contrast the appearance the ruined flower bed gave off,  the girl waited there; tidy, prim, proper.

“Who in the…?” There was a hint of tension in Tohru’s voice.

Because he couldn’t feel her presence at all.

An acquaintance of Guy’s, perhaps?

Even when looking straight at her, he felt nothing indicating she was actually there.

She looked to be in her early teens, maybe about Chaika’s age. Perhaps one or two years younger.

She wore a light-pink dress, and her long hair was tied up with red hair ornaments. She was cute, but it was a subdued kind of cute. Somewhat transient, almost—he got the impression of a pure maiden.

“…Um…” Tohru spoke up.

Yet the girl didn’t respond.

Who…in the world was she? He hadn’t felt anyone else’s presence in this house except Dominica’s, and he felt that way even now. There were, of course, ways to conceal your presence, but…it was definitely weird to not feel anything from her even though she was standing right in front of him.

“This is—”

As he inched closer to the girl, he stared at her, waiting for some sort of reaction. As he thought, she was ignoring him completely.

All she did was just stand there, staring out into empty space.

Almost as if—

“…Hm.”

Crouching down, Tohru grabbed a pebble lying on the ground, and using his index finger, flicked it towards the girl. The pebble headed straight for her—

“I knew it.”

It passed right through her.

The girl was an illusion. A mirage…no, more like a projection.

Tohru had heard of this…a device that projected a phantom. While it lacked an actual physical form, the device could make one believe that it really existed. It seemed like magic, but apparently the effect could be achieved with a simple apparatus. However, a projection was a projection, and so it was delicate enough that a mere change in the temperature or humidity of the environment around it would blur the image, giving it away.

“Could it be a portrait of someone?” Tohru muttered, knitting his eyebrows.

It was so bold—like a picture drawn with enough depth that you could reach out and touch it. Just out of curiosity’s sake, Tohru reached out his hand—

“Don’t touch her.”

He heard a quiet voice.

“…”

Tohru turned to look behind him.

Of course, he had felt a presence coming up behind him, but…

“Ah, no…I was…just…” Tohru faked a flustered demeanor.

Standing at the edge of the courtyard…was Dominica.

“My apologies.” Dominica shook her head, as if she had instantly regretted what she’d just said. “It’s not like you could touch her even if you tried, is it?”

“…Uh, no, I also apologize.” In an admirable gesture, Tohru lowered his head. “She’s just so beautiful, I…”

“‘Beautiful’, huh,” Dominica muttered. She closed her eyes, as if lost in thought. Then after a bit, she returned Tohru’s gaze and gave him a small smile.

“Thank you.”

“Who is she? A family member?”

Though he asked anyway, he already had a pretty good idea.

On the phantom girl, he could see resemblances to Dominica here and there. It could have been Dominica in her younger years, but although there were many similarities between the two, the overall feel she gave off was different. Dominica didn’t have the transient, flower-swaying-in-the-wind demeanor that this girl had. On the contrary—her impression was strong, like a towering tree firmly rooted in the earth.

After a brief, almost hesitant pause, she answered.

“Lucie Scoda. My younger sister.”

“I see.” Nodding, Tohru took another look at the illusion of Lucie.

In some respects, her figure reminded him almost of Chaika. What specifically about her that brought Chaika to mind, though, Tohru couldn’t put his finger on. Perhaps this similarity was one of the reasons Dominica was acting so affable towards them.

“…”

“…”

Tohru and Dominica stayed silent.

The two stood there, staring at the illusion, when…

“You’re not going to ask?” Dominica asked in a quiet, weary voice.

As he had already confirmed, there was no one else living here. Dominica had said as much earlier, and he could tell from the lack of presence. Which meant that Dominica wasn’t living together with her sister.

She was expressly decorating this garden with her sister’s image.

There were a limited number of explanations for this behavior. Also, remembering the almost reflexive, vehement way in which she had prohibited a complete stranger from touching the illusion…that right there told the tale of how deep her fixation ran.

It was how one acted towards something that they would never again be able to hold.

Which meant…

“Did she pass away?”

“…That’s right.”

Dominica wore an expression of self-loathing.

She let out a single sigh—perhaps she actually felt a sense of relief at being asked—and continued.

“It was while I was off to war.”

“…”

It was similar to when Tohru had told Chaika about his past, about the girl Jasmine. Perhaps she too had been wanting to confide in someone, spill it out to a complete stranger far removed from it all. Maybe this was even the reason she had saved Tohru’s group and even went out of her way to invite them to her home. Or, she could have harbored feelings of guilt after hearing Akari’s whopper of a tale, thinking that after hearing someone else’s secret, she needed to expose her own in order for her feelings to maintain equilibrium.

“My sister was everything to me. And yet, she perished. I could not protect her.”

Tohru offered a concise “What a pity.”

He realized that words intended to comfort were cheap, and could actually even trample on the receiver’s heart even further. Even a million words couldn’t bring the dead back to life. Therefore, keeping your mouth shut was also a form of paying respects.

“I became a dragoon cavalier because I wanted my sister to live in safety and luxury. Our parents died early on, so it was just two sisters, one younger and one older, practically living shoulder-to-shoulder…”

She laughed self-derisively.

“Ridiculous, isn’t it? I became a dragoon cavalier for her sake, and yet it was precisely because I had become one that I couldn’t be near to protect her.”

Dragoon cavaliers had incredible strength.

In terms of the battlefield, it was their impenetrable defense in particular that made them perfect for the front lines.

Take just one dragoon cavalier out of a unit or even an entire army, and their chances of winning would decrease dramatically. It was most likely a situation where regardless of her own feelings, there was no way she could leave. Just her being there saved numerous people from death. It didn’t matter how much she longed to see her sister’s face; if she left for a reason like that, she might as well have been ordering her comrades to die.

Could that also…be why she lives in seclusion?

After having her most precious thing snatched away from her, she probably couldn’t give a damn about a countess’s authority or a dragoon cavalier’s renown.

“The Scoda family was…a fallen family of cavaliers to begin with.”

With a groan, she began to tell the story.

“My father went to war and never returned, and my mother died of illness…our land was small, and we didn’t have the luxury of hired hands. Our family was literally hanging on by a thread, ready to snap at any moment. With just us left, even the villagers looked down on the Scoda family. They would neglect to pay taxes and such…it was a hard life.”

No matter how much their revenue dwindled, a count had to live like a count. They weren’t allowed to live like commoners. This also caused the Scodas to continue to lose respect in the villagers’ eyes. It was only out of fear that they continued to comply.

But…once Dominica had left for war, all that remained of the family was a single girl not even yet of age. And apparently there were those within the village that saw this as an opportunity to capitalize on.

They barged into their estate and demanded that, for the good of the population, she was to hand over everything she owned. She was just barely hanging on the family’s dignity as a countess, and yet the men determined that she had been living in extravagance. They asserted that while the rest of the territory was just barely getting along, the Scodas had been living in the lap of luxury all the while.

At a loss, Lucie gave them just about everything she had.

But the items entrusted to her that had accumulated over generations, like the inherited swords and suit of armor, as well as the works of art bestowed upon them by the crown, she had refused to part with. They were the last vestiges of the cavalier pedigree the Scoda family embodied. This was the family her mother had died protecting and that her older sister had inherited, and now it was up to her to protect it at all costs. That had to be what was running through her mind at the time.

But…there was no way the villagers could understand that.

Enraged at such absurdity, the villagers lost all sense of reason, ganged up on her, and beat her. Having been hit in vital spots, the conditioned of the downed girl worsened, and just like that, she passed away.

“You may have already heard this from the villagers at Ratison, but…”

Her self-deprecating smile warped.

“After learning the truth…I murdered all the villagers that had laid their hands on my sister.”

Aha, so that’s the “villager-massacre” I heard about, Tohru realized.

Dominica’s actions could be seen as punishment towards those who raised their fists to a member of the countess’s family, but even though she was a count, the slaughter was so one-sided that a trial wasn’t even necessary, and the act was seen as one born from mental derangement. It was even worse since Dominica was a dragoon cavalier. The murdered villagers hadn’t even had a chance to resist.

“I was prepared to suffer the consequences…but, ironically enough, I had earned a number of accolades from the war’s final battle, and so the crown acquitted me. I ended up receiving ownership of this town’s land, and so I moved here.”

“I see.”

That was likely also the reason Dominica had no interest in governing this land. Having just had the land foisted upon her, and having even lost her beloved sister in the end, of course she would have a laissez-faire attitude towards it.

“…No, I apologize.”

Having finished recounting her circumstances, Dominica shook her head weakly.

“This has nothing to do with you. Please forgive me, and consider your lodgings paid.”

“No, think nothing of it,” Tohru replied.

But…

What’s with this…unpleasant feeling?

Tohru was mulling something over in the corner of his mind.

Dominica probably wasn’t lying. She wouldn’t have had any reason to lie here.

But…

Is it because of the time elapsed?

She was recounting this story awfully matter-of-factly, almost as if she was a storyteller offering him a fairy tale. Having encountered tragedy, she had given herself over to her anger and murdered a number of villagers, and yet Tohru couldn’t feel that outburst of emotion anywhere within her now.

Perhaps time really did heal all wounds.

So after several years, she had managed to come to terms with her own sister’s death?

Or…

Could it be because…she’s a dragoon cavalier?

Could a dragon’s magic also be able to heal wounds of the heart?

Or perhaps becoming one with the dragoon meant that you forfeited your emotions as a human?

“By the way, Miss Scoda,” Tohru began, trying to make it seem like he had just hit upon the idea, “you’re a dragoon cavalier, correct?”

“Yes, what of it?” Dominica tilted her head.

Looking around the courtyard, Tohru asked her the question that had been bugging him the most.

“I don’t see the dragoon around anywhere. Where is it?”

It was in the name—a dragoon cavalier was one with the dragon.

Once in effect, a dragoon cavalier’s “pledge”, or the pact they made with their dragoon, could only be dispelled if either one of them happened to die. Even if they were some distance away from each other, the pact would still remain, so they didn’t have to be together 24/7…but even so, Tohru had heard that in most cases the dragon and the dragoon cavalier acted together.

But Tohru hadn’t sensed hide nor hair of a dragon anywhere in this mansion.

Of course, the dragon probably hadn’t died. Tohru and the others had seen her use the dragon’s transformation magic to change clothes, after all.

“Ah, that…” Dominica nodded, her expression somewhat indiscernible. After appearing deep in thought for a moment…

“Due to some…circumstances, it’s a bit further away from here.”

That was all she said.

It seemed she wasn’t going to divulge the details of those circumstances.

“Well, it’s actually more convenient this way.”

”And…why is that?”

“Normal people see dragons as a species of Feyra. If a dragon was in your vicinity, you people would be on edge to the point of being unable to sleep. Even on the battlefield, all the soldiers made camp as far away from me as they could.”

“But I’ve heard that dragoons are a different story…?”

Although they all fell under the same umbrella of “Feyra,” the dragoon and the kraken were fundamentally different from the other Feyra in that they possessed high intelligence. Because of that, there were aspects of them that could not be controlled. Looking at it from the reverse, though, having such intelligent creatures meant rather than one-sided domination and servitude, you could enter into a cooperative relationship with them, and things like pacts were possible.

“It’s the same.” Dominica shook her head. “An aberration is an aberration. It doesn’t matter if the dragon has feelings or not. That’s why humans are—ah, never mind.”

It seemed like she was about to say something…but Dominica stopped right there and shook her head, as if to nip that thought in the bud.

“At any rate, no need to concern yourself with it.”

“…Sure.” Tohru offered a vague reply.

She said “don’t concern yourself with it,” but there was no way he couldn’t.

If it came down to having to fight Dominica in order to steal the remains, the fact that her dragoon was off in some unknown place meant that they might be able to sneak-attack her after all.

However, there was still a problem. They didn’t know for sure whether or not she actually had the remains.

“Oh, by the way, Miss Scoda.”

“What?”

“Just a bit ago, you mentioned that you received certain accolades during the war.”

“Indeed. A reward for continuing to fight almost to my last breath.”

“What, specifically, were they?”

“I was there during the battle for the capital of the Gaz Empire.”

She said it right out.

But rather than pride, she spoke of it almost with embarrassment, with a despondent expression on her face. It must have been because of what happened to her sister. There was no way she could be proud of her accomplishments after that.

“I received this land from His Majesty as a result of that battle. However, to be honest, now that Lucie’s gone owning this land is nothing but a nuisance.”

“Society, power, fame, assets…none of it matters to you, huh?”

“…Exactly. I have no need for any of it.”

This too, Dominica affirmed succinctly.

Then…

There was a chance she had already given away the remains.

Or, rather, if she hadn’t…then they could possibly strike a deal with her to obtain them.

“So, what about it?” Dominica asked with a puzzled expression. It seemed she hadn’t seen through to the real purpose of the question.

“Oh, nothing, it’s just that…for a countess and noble, you’re rather…you know.”

“‘I live rather plainly.’ Is that what you want to say?” A slight smile appeared on her face.

“Putting it frankly, then yes. I was wondering why that was.”

“Truthfully, I no longer have anything that I desire,” she said, indifferent. “However, even now, if I was able to wish for anything I wanted in the world, it’d have to be…”

At that point, her voice trailed off.

As though she were reminiscing, she stared at the sky with faraway eyes.

“It would be…?” Tohru urged her on.

But she just stood there, seemingly lost for an answer, and then at last…

“I know it’s ridiculous, but…”

Her gaze returned to Tohru.

“I’d like to stand on the battlefield again, one more time.”

“…”

The end of the long war had finally brought an era of peace.

Tohru had thought there were probably only a small fraction of the populace who were like him, sick of peace—or  perhaps they were actually the majority?—but even so, he was not expecting to come across someone else who also wished to plunge the world into war once more.

Even less so, someone who had aided in the Gaz Empire’s collapse.

Even Chaika didn’t necessarily wish for war—

“Oh yes. As for meals…”

Suddenly changing gears, Dominica spoke.

“Ah…yes.”

“To be honest, I don’t have any ingredients. I go out to hunt on occasion and smoke wild boar or deer meat, but that’s about it.”

“No need to worry there. We will take care of ourselves. Thank you for your concern on our behalf.”

Tohru bowed his head. In truth there were some preserved rations still in the Svetrana, so surely they could portion out and make do with their current ingredients and foodstuffs for at least a week.

“I see. Then, feel free to use the kitchen at your leisure.”

“Understood.” Tohru nodded.

But…

What the hell? Yeah, this is definitely weird.

But of course, he couldn’t put into words exactly what was so strange.

In the back of Tohru’s mind, a number of misgivings were flitting around, not yet able to manifest fully.

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